Asus Zenbook Duo UX481 review

ASUS ZenBook Duo (UX481) Review:  ASUS launched its groundbreaking 14-inch ZenBook Duo (UX481) laptop featuring the new ASUS ScreenPad™ Plus — a revolutionary 12.6-inch full-width auxiliary touchscreen a couple of months back

The laptop is also currently available for purchase locally and ASUS is selling it for Ksh. 235,000 and at that price, the ZenBook Duo (UX481) is an excellent laptop. 

As we have mentioned in all our previous reviews on the different ZenBooks we have interacted with, ASUS is no stranger to innovation and the company has been banking on its innovation prowess to capture and grow its share in the Kenyan market. With these laptops ASUS has paved the way to a new form factor for laptops and come equipped with both a keyboard and a secondary touchscreen for input. 

We managed to get our hands on the ZenBook Duo and the laptop is indeed an interesting spin, a second screen and also offers some good performance. But is this second screen really necessary? Here is our quick review on the ASUS ZenBook Duo. 

Obviously, the second 12.6-inch IPS panel that is wide as the primary display is what makes the ZenBook Duo stand out. It’s what makes the laptop special. ASUS is calling it the ScreenPad Plus and it indeed changes how you can interact with the laptop, allowing productivity-enhancing workflows and easy multitasking. ScreenPad Plus integrates seamlessly with the primary display, and the built-in ScreenXpert software includes a wide selection of useful apps, tools and utilities that allow users to easily enjoy the efficiency benefits of ScreenPad Plus.

The ScreenPad Plus is touch-and-pen-enabled and allows you to drag apps and windows. What this means is that you can, for example, drag an editing app from the external display to the ScreenPad Plus. Good for multitasking because you could do something like be on Netflix while working or open a second browser for multitasking. This is what we loved most about the ScreenPad Plus. 

There are also so many other things you could do with the ScreenPad like using the launcher to access various apps and even extend the main display onto the ScreenPad, providing access to more information in a productivity app. 

The series of handy built-in apps include Quick Key that allows one-tap automation of complex keyboard sequences, and Handwriting that lets you input text intuitively. There are also useful quick controls such as App Switcher, ViewMax and Task Swap for intuitive interactions between the main display and ScreenPad Plus. Task Group lets you lock into work mode by opening multiple tasks with a single touch. 

Design and Display

Unlike other ZenBooks which we consider thin and light, the ZenBook Duo is considerably thick and has some weight weighing around1.5 kgs and measures 32.3 x 22.3 x 1.99 centimetres. It embraces the iconic design accents of the ZenBook series first introduced with the original ZenBook UX21. It reserves the signature tapering edges, the spun-metal finish with its Zen-inspired concentric circles on its lid, and diamond-cut chamfered edges. But in a new twist, ZenBook Duo introduces a unique non-centred (asymmetric) version of the spun-metal lid finish, giving this revolutionary laptop an intriguing design with a totally unmistakable identity. It definitely deserves a second look.

The ScreenPad Plus, as earlier mentioned, is an impressive addition to the laptop and is probably the biggest talking point. 

ASUS also decided to position the trackpad on the right side and it really took us time getting used to it. We use a mouse most of the time but when we needed to use the trackpad it felt a bit awkward. Right-handed people might also not feel comfortable using it. We are so used to the trackpad being below the keyboard so yes, this was some real struggle. 

ASUS squeezed both the keyboard and trackpad into the space below the ScreenPad Plus, and this is probably the biggest downside of the ZenBook Duo UX481.

In terms of connectivity, there’s a USB-C 3.1 port, two USB-A 3.1 ports (one Gen 1 and one Gen 2), a full-size HDMI port, and a microSD card reader. We also expected the ZenBook Duo to have a Thunderbolt 3 port for fast transfer speeds and for connecting to multiple 4K monitors just as you would expect with any premium laptop. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

The primary screen is a 14-inch, 1080p FHD NanoEdge display and comes with a four-sided frameless design featuring 90 percent screen to body ratio. Unlike the ScreenPad, the main display is non-touch and gets a non-glare coating on top. 

Most of us prefer 4K displays, of course, we wouldn’t mind or we enjoy displays with wide and accurate colours, some good brightness and lots of contrast. We feel ASUS should have done better here because the display is average. The colours are a bit saturated, but again, it’s pleasant for streaming your favourite movies and productivity work. 

ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481 performance and battery life

The ZenBook Duo is powered by the latest 10th Generation Intel Core i7 quad-core processor with up to a 4.9GHz Turbo Boost frequency and 16GB of LPDDR3 RAM. The NVIDIA GeForce MX250 GPU boosts on-the-go graphics processing while helping maintain superb battery life.

An up to 1TB PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD according to ASUS ensures ultrafast data access at all times. The latest Intel Wi-Fi 6 with Gig+ (802.11ax) on the ZenBook takes wireless speeds to the next level, for supersmooth connections to the world. This laptop is aimed at professionals and creators and that’s why it packs pretty decent hardware.

During our entire one week period we interacted with the ASUS ZenBook Duo the performance was impressive. If you’re a creator who uses apps like Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator to name a few, then the ZenBook Duo is worth considering. Graphic design software ran smoothly without a hitch.

In terms of the battery, we honestly were not expecting a good battery life from the ASUS ZenBook Duo considering the ScreenPad Plus size but we were really surprised. We made the laptop our primary laptop since it was sent to us and during our intense battery test, it was able to last us for close to 4 hours. For normal usage which included video streaming and web browsing, the battery on the ASUS ZenBook Duo was able to last us for close to 8 hours on a single charge even with the ScreenPad Plus active the entire time during our entire review period. 

The audio system is amazing. According to ASUS, the audio system on the ZenBook Duo was tuned by experts from the ASUS Golden Ears audio team, and certified by renowned audio technology company, Harman Kardon to ensure the very best experience for the playback of a wide variety of content. The audio volume is loud and clear, combined with rich depth and surround effects compared to other laptops of similar size. The speakers are driven by a smart amplifier that automatically allows the maximum volume possible while preventing long-term damage to the sensitive voice coils of the speakers. 

Should you buy the ASUS ZenBook Duo?

Did we really love the ASUS ZenBook Duo? Well, we did and this is a laptop any creator would wish to have at least based on the replies we got after sharing a photo of the laptop on my Twitter page. 

ASUS tried to get everything right with the ZenBook Duo with the downside just being the positioning of the trackpad and the keyboard. As we stated earlier, we also expected the ZenBook Duo to have a Thunderbolt 3 port, unfortunately, this is not the case. 

The extra display is what draws attention to this laptop, we loved that although other people might have different opinions. The battery life and overall performance is great and the speakers are incredible making the ASUS ZenBook Duo worth considering. 

The laptop is currently selling in Kenya for Ksh.235,000 and you can grab at Textbook Center in Nairobi

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I track and report on tech and African startups. Founder and Editor of TechTrends Media. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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